Monday, 7 November 2011

Gladstone & CSG – 4 Corners tonight

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Thirty years ago, Australia willingly made the Reef a World Heritage Area. That listing was intended to protect the Reef. Any changes to its management, or developments that might affect it, should be notified in advance to the World Heritage Committee.

In this report, Marian Wilkinson travels to Queensland to assess claims that at least six major port developments - either being planned or currently underway - could potentially put the Reef in jeopardy and destroy industries, like fishing, that rely on their proximity to it.

Coal seam gas is a massive undertaking. It's estimated there are now close to 4,000 wells in Queensland. That number will grow tenfold over the next 20 years. The plan is to take a lot of that gas to Curtis Island, off Gladstone in the World Heritage Area, where it will be processed and exported.

To service the huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and expand its coal loading capacity, Gladstone Ports Corporation is now undertaking the biggest dredging operation ever attempted inshore from the Great Barrier Reef.

Part of the spoil dredged up will be taken out to sea to a dump site within one kilometre of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Reporter Marian Wilkinson examines why the Federal Government did not tell the World Heritage Committee in advance about the planned port expansion, given the potential to impact on the World Heritage Area.

She also investigates what impact the dredging will have on marine life around Gladstone Harbour and how it might affect the Reef. She speaks to local fishermen who believe the dredging is responsible for a startling outbreak of fish disease in the Harbour waters. And she questions Government officials who say the water is fine and the disease is a result of natural causes.

The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is just one area feeling the pressure. Hay Point, near Mackay, is in line for a massive port expansion that will see another dredging and dumping operation that could affect the Reef. Port Alma, at the mouth of the Fitzroy River near Great Keppel Island, is also looking to expand and Bathurst Bay, north of Cooktown, could be the site for a big new coal loading facility in the pristine waters of the Northern Reef.

Experts warn this expansion will lead to a substantial increase in shipping through the Reef, increasing the possibility of groundings and oil spills in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

'Great Barrier Grief', presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 7th November at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on Tuesday 8th November at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm Saturdays, on ABC iview or

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